Scenes from Spring Training: A day with the Twins, Part 2

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Tom Kelly and Mark McGwire.jpg

“I’m tellin’ ya, Mac. If you simply do what I did and say boring things all the time, those pesky reporters would leave ya alone. Now, what say you and me go beat up Gardenhire so I can get my team back?”

I may have gotten that quote wrong. Can’t find my notes. A pity, really.

After the Nathan news I decided to just walk around and see what I could see. As evidenced by the above pic, Tom Kelly talking to Mark McGwire is one of the first things I saw.  Nothing particularly interesting was exchanged, but it seemed like a good photo to take.

The Cardinals took batting practice right after that, with Big Mac standing behind the cage, just a couple of feet in front of me.  I studied the subject for a while. He seemed to talk like a normal person, giving some instruction to the batter in the cage. He sneezed once, which suggests even more human traits. At one point he checked his watch, which suggests that he’s concerned of matters temporal, while most monsters tend not to be.  It was almost enough to make me think that everything I’ve been reading about the man was wrong.  I risked speaking to him:

“Hey Mac, what are the biggest differences between spring training as a player and spring training as a coach in terms of routines, preparation, things like that,” I asked.

“Well,” McGwire started, not taking his eyes off the hitters, “the biggest thing is I don’t have to do it.”

Do it?  What could he mean? Shoot steroids?!  Freebase the bone marrow of infants?!

“Train. A lot less physical stuff, that’s for sure.” McGwire chuckled.

After that, the guy hitting fungoes asked La Russa — who was standing nearby — if he’d hit them for a while. La Russa said he had to do something else so the other guy kept hitting.  I asked McGwire why they don’t ask him to do it.  He said “the guys say I hit ’em too hard.”

It was at that moment that I decided that Mark McGwire is just a plain old hitting coach. Just as I couldn’t think of anything particularly interesting to ask, say, Howard Johnson or Don Baylor, I can’t think of much interesting I’d ask Mark McGwire.  Nor do I think he’d say anything all that interesting even if I could think of a good question.  McGwire was an interesting diversion for a couple of cold, news-barren months.  Now he’s just a coach. No more, no less.

I left the field and made a slow walk to the press box.  I passed a brick wall with the National Professional Scouts Hall of Fame on it.  It wasn’t the most impressive Hall of Fame I’ve ever seen, but I’m sure the enshrinees’ mothers are proud. All four of them.

Back upstairs I sat down and watched the grounds crew clean up the divots and detritus of a morning’s worth of BP and infield practice and prepare the field for the ballgame.  If there’s anything more aesthetically satisfying than watching fresh chalk lines get laid down, I’m not sure what it is.

Watch: Mike Trout ties MLB record with his 25th home run

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It was only a matter of time before Mike Trout courted another all-time record, and on Saturday, he found himself in elite company with his 25th and 26th home runs of the season. He put the Angels on the board with a 429-foot blast in the first inning, depositing an 0-1 fastball from the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman into the left field bleachers:

In the third inning, with the Angels up 2-1, Trout returned to tack on another insurance run. He targeted Gausman’s slider for his second solo shot of the evening and cleared the center field fence with a 418-footer to bring his total to 26 home runs on the year.

Trout has mashed at a staggering .339/.471/.596 clip since his return from the disabled list last month, and Saturday’s totals helped mark his sixth consecutive season with at least 25 home runs. That’s a record few have matched before their age-26 season; in fact, only Hall of Fame sluggers Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson have ever pulled it off.

Assuming he continues to rake in hits and plate appearances over the last six weeks of the regular season — and there’s nothing to indicate that he won’t — Trout is in line to join elite company of a different kind. The 26-year-old entered Saturday’s game with a 206 OPS+ (park-adjusted on-base plus slugging). According to MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, that means Trout’s hitting at a better clip than the average Major League player by a full 106 percent. Should he finish the year with a 200 OPS+ and 502 plate appearances or better, he’ll be the first player to do so since Barry Bonds obliterated the competition with his 263 OPS+ in 2004.

Blue Jays acquire Tom Koehler from Marlins

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The Blue Jays acquired right-hander Tom Koehler from the Marlins in exchange for minor league right-hander Osman Gutierrez and cash considerations, the clubs announced Saturday. Koehler is in his sixth year with the Marlins and stands to make $5.75 million in 2017. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2018 and is set to enter free agency by 2019.

The 31-year-old right-hander struggled to a 7.92 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 55 2/3 innings with Miami in 2017. He was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans in late July, where he rebounded with a 1-1 record in seven starts and whittled his ERA down to a 1.67 mark. The Blue Jays have yet to establish Koehler’s role within their organization, but are hoping to see a turnaround from the righty when he breaks back into the big leagues.

Gutierrez, 22, was assigned to Single-A Greensboro on Saturday. He has yet to find his footing in the minors, and exited a 78-inning stint with Single-A Lansing after racking up a career-worst 7.85 ERA and 8.2 SO/9. His lack of control is particularly alarming, with a 6.2 BB/9 that dwarfs the 2.0+ BB/9 of seasons past, but he still has plenty of time to figure out his mechanics before reaching the Show.